Saturday, September 30, 2006

More Intimidation from Muslims

[This is from Expatia, a French Publication.]

Teacher who attacked Islam: 'alone and abandoned'

PARIS, Sept 29, 2006 (AFP) - French anti-terrorism authorities Friday opened an inquiry into death threats against a philosophy teacher who has been forced into hiding over a newspaper column attacking Islam, legal officials said.

Robert Redeker, 52, is receiving round-the-clock police protection and changing addresses every two days, after publishing an article describing the Koran as a "book of extraordinary violence" and Islam as "a religion which ... exalts violence and hate".

He told i-TV television he had received several e-mail threats targeting himself and his wife and three children, and that his photograph and address were available on several Islamist Internet sites.

"There is a very clear map of how to get to my home, with the words: 'This pig must have his head cut off'," he said....

Friday, September 29, 2006

Antidote to Celebrity-centric Insanity

Here are some curmudgeonly tools in the struggle against entertainment celebritism.

1. Do not read stories about them.
2. When in stores, cover up celebrity magazines and books with more thoughtful magazines and books or turn the covers around.
3. Don't refer to them in sermons; or if you do, do so only negatively.
4. Do not dress like them.
5. Do not speak like them.
6. Do not watch them on television.
7. Do not attend their ridiculous movies.
8. Don't strike celebrity-like poses--for cameras or otherwise.
9. Pray the celebrities will repent of their shabby, hollow, and empty egoism and embrace the Kingdom of God.
10. Fill your mind with ancient and more modern thinkers whose ideas last and bless: Augustine, Pascal, Jonathon Edwards, C.S. Lewis, Francis Schaeffer, Os Guinness, and so on.
11. Read biographies of great and godly people.
12. Get interested in the lives of the people who are near you, people you love, people you can influence for righteousness.

15 Do not love the world or anything in the world. If you love the world, love for the Father [a] is not in you. 16 For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful people, the lust of their eyes and their boasting about what they have and do—comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but whoever does the will of God lives forever. - 1 John 2:15-17

How Libraries Speak

[Jay Parini has written a thoughtful reflection on the meaning of people's personal libraries in The Chronicle Review, from whence this quote comes.]

What interests me about other people's books is the nature of their collection. A personal library is an X-ray of the owner's soul. It offers keys to a particular temperament, an intellectual disposition, a way of being in the world. Even how the books are arranged on the shelves deserves notice, even reflection. There is probably no such thing as complete chaos in such arrangements.

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Modus Ponens and Modus Tolens in the Materialism/Dualism Debate

[These are some notes I offered to my Introduction to Philosophy class related to the dualism/materialism debate. What do you think of these arguments?]

Questions that Matter, 5th ed. quotes J.J. C. Smart to illustrate “The New Materialism,” which is not mechanistic, unlike the materialism of La Mettrie. Smart argues for materialism on the basis of animal evolution. He writes:

It may be asked why I should demand of a tenable philosophy of mind that it should be compatible with materialism, in the sense in which I have defined it. One reason is as follows. How could a nonphysical property or entity suddenly arise in the course of animal evolution? A change in a gene is a change in a complex molecule which causes a change in the biochemistry of the cell. This may lead to changes in the shape or organization of the developing embryo. But what sort of chemical process could lead to the springing of existence of something nonphysical? No enzyme can catalyze the production of a spook! (Miller/Jensen, Questions that Matter, 5th ed., p. 160-161).

This is Smart’s argument (SA):

1. If animal evolution is true (antecedent), then there can be no nonphysical properties in human beings (consequent).
2. Animal evolution is conceived as entirely physical.
3. Further, from the physical alone, the nonphysical cannot come. Causal principle.
4. Animal evolution is true. (Affirming the antecedent of (1).)
5. Therefore (a), there are can be no nonphysical properties in human beings.
6. Therefore (b), materialism is true.

This argument is valid and uses the modus ponens deductive argument form. If the premises are true and the form is valid, the conclusion must be true.

However, we can turn Smart’s argument on its head by rearranging it as a modus tolens argument (denying the consequent). Call this Against Smart’s Argument (ASA):

1. If animal evolution is true (antecedent), then there can be no nonphysical properties in human beings (consequent).
2. Animal evolution is conceived as entirely physical.
3. Further, from the physical alone, the nonphysical cannot come. Causal principle.
4. The mind is not identical to matter. See Descartes’ and others’ arguments to that effect. These arguments appeal to the law of identity (A=A) and other logical principles.
5. Therefore (a), there are nonphysical properties in human beings (denying the consequent of (1).)
6. Therefore (b), materialism is false.
7. Therefore (c), animal evolution is not true.

This argument is valid and uses the modus tolens argument form. If the premises are true and the form is valid, the conclusion must be true. Of course, since SA and ASA have contradictory conclusions, they cannot both be true (the law of noncontradiction: A cannot be non-A). In fact, only one of them can be true, since humans either possess nonphysical qualities or they do not. (That is, the statements are contradictories, not contraries.) So, the philosophical debate focuses on the truth value of both the antecedent and the consequent.

Blog Name Change: Back to the Source

The name of this blog has been changed to "The Constructive Curmudgeon," which was its short-lived original name (and is its URL) and has been part of its subtitle. This shortens the title and gets to the heart of being a critically engaged thinker not afraid to challenge orthodoxies (or heterodoxies) when need be. So be it. Tell CNN and The New York Times right away.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Letter From Sun City West (corrected and updated)

For friends and interested others, herein is a report on our situation in Sun City West, Arizona--a retirement community--where we will live until the middle of next January. This term I am on sabbatical from Denver Seminary. I will try to avoid the utterly pedestrian, but this will not be stunning social commentary.

We wanted to live here to spend time with Rebecca's elderly and failing parents, to get her into a better climate for her health, and to be involved in a church pastored by friends of ours. Rebecca will also be sorting out decades of things left by her parents that are in the house, who are too befogged at this point to make these decisions, sadly.

Figuring out what to take and what to leave, as well as arranging for house repairs in our absence, was very challenging. Rebecca's stellar organizational skills served us well. We are also thankful to many friends for donating their time and talents for this task. One of my students is doing a bang up job house-sitting and helping coordinate all the repairs as well.

I arrived in Sun City West five weeks ago by car. Rebecca came by air one week later. We are living in Rebecca's parents' home, which has not been lived in for about four years. It has recently been renovated and was stocked with many household items, but we still have to do all that was necessary to move in. I was only able to bring about thirty books with me, which can be traumatic for a bibliophile-or perhaps a bibliolater. Nevertheless, there are Borders and Barnes and Nobles within striking distance and Amazon delivers here as well as Centennial, Colorado.

Rebecca and I both felt strange living in a home we so closely associate with her parents. Yet they are gone and will not return here. Her mother is in a group home and her father lives with his oldest son. Rebecca is surrounded by objects that spark deep memories--clothes, appliances, briefcases, and much more. I recently went through nearly fifty years of publications by The American Scientific Affiliation to clip articles I wanted to keep. I found two book reviews I had written for them in 1984 that had completely slipped my mind! They are now safely added to my resume. Paul Merrill, Rebecca's father, was a long-time member and a psychologist.

I am volunteering part-time at Covenant of Grace Church in Phoenix: a multi-ethnic charismatic church pastored by our long-time friends, Len and Sharon Griffin. Thus far, I have preached twice and have started an adult education class on worldview, apologetics, and ethics. This Sunday we will begin a special service oriented toward the African immigrants, whom I have a special concern for, given my many African friends I have met through my teaching. The first meeting will be mostly exploratory to see what these folks need to learn about being a Christian in America. (I am still trying figure that out.)

Estrella Mountain Community College hired me as an adjunct to teach an Introduction to Philosophy class. Only about half the students attend and few have very strong skills in writing or critical thinking. But I am laboring to reach them where they are and bring them up a few notches. If they leave the class realizing the importance of objective truth, logic, and religious questions, I will be somewhat satisfied. One student claimed that she felt like she was from "another planet" with respect to the material--it was so strange to her. It is humbling for me to labor to engage these souls.

I am also working on various writing projects, including my apologetics textbook, What Matters Most. I started this in the spring of 2003 and it is suffering from apologetic obesity. It is probably about 500 pages long so far. And I am not done. Much of it is very rough, so I need to edit and rewrite. When will it come out? I have no idea when--someday, I hope.

We will attempt to see them every other Saturday and bring some grace and love to them. Both live quite far from where we are living. Rebecca's older brother and his wife take care of the parents, a nearly full-time job. They are patient, loving, and dedicated in this task.

Although I am attending and ministering at Covenant of Grace, Rebecca cannot accompany me because of her health problems, although we are getting involved in a small group with the church. However, we found Lutheran Church in the neighborhood called Crown of Life Lutheran Church. (The Lutherans always have classy names for their churches; no Grace Community Fellowship for them.) We have been attending their Saturday afternoon services. The worship is quite liturgical, biblical, and respectful. The fungus of popular culture is almost entirely absent. The church building is beautiful; it looks nothing like a theater or warehouse, unlike most pop/schlock evangelical enterprises. It has gorgeous stained glass windows, but without any member of the godhead depicted (as it should be: make no images of God). A cross hangs from the ceiling and is impossible to ignore. No projection screen obscures it (as is the case in some clueless churches.) Everyone there is very friendly. We stick out, since we are decades younger than everyone else.

We took communion last Saturday and found it meaningful. There is no improvising there, thank God. I am becoming more sacramental in my old age.

The weather has been blisteringly hot, especially during the first two weeks I was here. It is now "cooling off" into the low nineties during the day about twenty degrees cooler at night. Of course, fall and winter is the time to live here. I miss riding my bike on the Highline Canal trial. When it cools off, I can do some bike riding with my brother-in-law, Gerry, an avid biker.

Life is slower and quieter, to be sure--and a bit lonely. It it, however, wonderfully quiet. The huge and ugly vehicles that haunt our neighborhood are absent. We have heard a few subwoofers, but not many. In the mornings, I can sit in the back porch and read. There is no activity in the other yards, since they require no maintenance and because everyone is inside.

I have been swimming at the recreation center fairly often and observing old bodies in various stages of disrepair. I have never seen people swim so slowly in my life. A woman told me tonight that it was good "to see some young people here." (I am 49.) (I was also called "a baby" by someone else.) She told me she comes most every night and swims one lap; that is her limit. Well, good for her. Most, in fact, do not swim but "water walk," usually in packs or two-by-two. It all makes me think of how I will age, how enfeebled I will be, what my life will be like, how I can prepare for it. I don't look forward to "retiring," since it isn't a biblical idea. However, Ecclesiastes 12 happens to everyone who lives long enough.

So here we are. We solicit your prayers that this will be time well spent for the glory of God and the advancement of his kingdom (Matthew 6:33; 1 Corinthians 10:31).

Friday, September 22, 2006

Truth Telling on Islam

Muslim violence
By Jeff Jacoby | September 20, 2006

AS SHE LAY dying in a Mogadishu hospital, Sister Leonella forgave her killers. She had lived in Africa for almost four decades and could speak fluent Somali, but her last words were murmured in Italian, her mother tongue. ``Perdono, perdono," she whispered. I forgive, I forgive.

She was 65 and had devoted her life to the care of sick mothers and children. She was on her way to meet three other nuns for lunch on Sunday when two gunmen shot her several times in the back. "Her slaying was not a random attack," the Associated Press reported. It "raised concerns" that she was the latest victim of "growing Islamic radicalism in the country."

Raised concerns? Sister Leonella was gunned down less than two days after a prominent Somali cleric had called on Muslims to kill Pope Benedict XVI for his remarks about Islam in a scholarly lecture last week.

``We urge you, Muslims, wherever you are to hunt down the pope for his barbaric statements," Sheik Abubukar Hassan Malin had exhorted worshippers during evening prayers at a Mogadishu mosque. "Whoever offends our prophet Mohammed should be killed on the spot by the nearest Muslim." Sister Leonella was not the pope, but she was presumably close enough for purposes of the local jihadists.

If it weren't so sickening, it would be farcical: A line in the pope's speech suggests that Islam has a dark history of violence, and offended Muslims vent their displeasure by howling for his death, firebombing churches, and attacking innocent Christians. One of the points Benedict made in his speech at the University of Regensburg was that religious faith untethered by reason can lead to savagery. The mobs denouncing him could hardly have done a better job of proving him right.

In his lecture, Benedict quoted the late Byzantine emperor Manuel II, who had condemned Islam's militancy with these words: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

In the ensuing uproar, British Muslims demonstrated outside Westminster Cathedral with signs reading "Pope go to Hell" and "Islam will conquer Rome," while the head of the Society of Muslim Lawyers declared that the pope must be "subject to capital punishment." In Iraq, the radical Mujahideen's Army vowed to "smash the crosses in the house of the dog from Rome" and the Mujahideen Shura Council swore to ``continue our jihad and never stop until God avails us to chop your necks." Arsonists in the West Bank set churches on fire, and a group calling itself ``The Sword of Islam" issued a warning: ``If the pope does not appear on TV and apologize for his comments, we will blow up all of Gaza's churches."

In fact, the pope did apologize, more than once. Whether the studied frenzy will now subside remains to be seen. But it's only a matter of time until the next one erupts.

This time it was a 14th-century quote from a Byzantine ruler that set off -- or rather, was exploited by Islamist firebrands to ignite -- the international demonstrations, death threats, and violence. Earlier this year it was cartoons about Mohammed in a Danish newspaper. Last year it was a Newsweek report, later debunked, that a Koran had been desecrated by a US interrogator in Guantanamo. Before that it was Jerry Falwell's comment on "60 Minutes" that Mohammed was a "terrorist." Back in 1989 it was the publication of Salman Rushdie's satirical novel, "The Satanic Verses."

In every case, the pretext for the Muslim rage was the claim that Islam had been insulted. Freedom of speech was irrelevant: While the rioters and those inciting them routinely insult Christianity, Judaism, and other religions, they demand that no one be allowed to denigrate Islam or its prophet. It is a staggering double standard, and too many in the West seem willing to go along with it. Witness the editorials in US newspapers this week scolding the pope for his speech. Recall the State Department's condemnation of the Danish cartoons last winter.

Of course nobody's faith should be gratuitously affronted. But the real insult to Islam is not a line from a papal speech or a cartoon about Mohammed. It is the violence, terror, and bloodshed that Islamist fanatics unleash in the name of their religion -- and the unwillingness of most of the world's Muslims to say or do anything to stop them.

Jeff Jacoby's e-mail address is

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Are All Religions One?

Brent Cunningham, a graduate of the Denver Seminary Philosophy Masters Degree, has put the audio file my 2004 lecture, "Are All Religions One: Comparing Jesus and Buddha" on his web page. If you are interested in the lecture outline for this talk, please let me know. This was given as a public lecture at Colorado State University (Fort Collins) before about 300 people.

If you are further interested in this topic, consider reading my booklet, Are All Religions One? (InterVarsity Press, 1996).

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Thou Shalt Steal Sermons--"To Be Effective"

30 "Therefore," declares the LORD, "I am against the prophets who steal from one another words supposedly from me. 31 Yes," declares the LORD, "I am against the prophets who wag their own tongues and yet declare, 'The LORD declares.' 32 Indeed, I am against those who prophesy false dreams," declares the LORD. "They tell them and lead my people astray with their reckless lies, yet I did not send or appoint them. They do not benefit these people in the least," declares the LORD. -- Jeremiah 23:30-32.

Steve Sjogren advocates sermon stealing on the Rick Warren web page. Instead of being original, putting in the hard study time, laboring to forge a godly message through the prism of your own character, Sjogren says it’s better to steal from sermons that work, that are effective. Although it reads like a parody, it is serious--and it is a serious, serious, and pernicious sin.

We are commanded by God not to steal. Lifting other people's sermons word-for-word, as the article recommends. is intellectual theft and is based on the idolatry of imitating "effective" preachers (read: megachurch pulpiteers). It is nothing less than the worship of "effectiveness," which translates as: get big numbers with minimal effort and integrity optional. In fact, according to the larcenous Sjogren, sermonic integrity just gets in the way and wastes time.

Yes, all preachers learn from and quote other preachers. A few undocumented phrases here and there are no sin. In my Sunday sermon, I quoted Daniel Boorstin's line that celebrities are "well know for being well know." When people responded more than I anticipated, I said I got that from a social critic. Otherwise, I may not have mentioned the source. Further, some basic ideas came from a book by R.C. Sproul (The Holiness of God), which was cited in the "recommended reading" section of my sermon outline given to the congregation. When I quoted Matthew Henry, his name was mentioned. However, if one takes credit for large sections of others people's work, not putting in their own time before the sacred text, one can only pity them and their followers.

No, we can do more than pity them. We can call them to "Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand," as Jesus said. As John the Baptist thundered, "Bear fruit worthy of repentance." That means, confess your theft; renounce the ungodly counsel, and start working as unto the Lord, who searches hearts and minds. That includes those who sell their sermons: first and foremost Rick Warren. You should not sell what others should not buy.

Do we wonder why there is so little spiritual power and wisdom in America's pulpits? Many "worship services" worship market share, attendance numbers, and giving units, as opposed to a "holy, holy, holy" God (Isaiah 6:1-3). The First Church of the Golden Calf was more "effective" (for a season) than The First Church of Moses and God. Until we start to preach, and teach, and worship before "the audit of Eternity" (Kierkegaard), all our efforts are but wood, hay, and stubble. May God have mercy on us and revive us again.

[I was alerted to this egregious article through this article on "pastoral plagiarism."]

[The following guest posting is by a seventeen-year who has much to teach us about the evangelistic possibilities of the new social spaces on the Internet.] is the coolest place there is! You can go there any time you are online, which is nearly all the time for most people today--or should be, anyway. You can post totally doctored or faked photos of yourself (morph your body, fix your skin), chose a name, and seek buddies. The more buddies you have, the cooler you are. Of course, you never meet these buddies outside of the computer, and they may not be who or what they claim, but who cares! They are your buddies: you can stare at their come-hither poses, read their postings, and keep racking up the count. If they bother you, delete 'um! It's so easy and simple.

Why bother much with messy, face-to-face "relationships" when you can have buddies? Sure, some parents worry that we will get hooked on this or even get abused by wierdos who prowl for lonely teens, but it's just worth the risk because it's all so totally cool and awesome. What do the parents know, anyway?

Why hassle with reading books, which are so lacking in photos, can't be made into my style, and, well, like, just sit there? How boring! In I never have to read more than a few lines at a time anyway, and they are always so interesting. Just yesterday a buddy wrote, "Ohmygod, you are so funny. I laughed so hard I spilled my energy drink all over the keyboard." Books have words in them that I cannot relate to. Know what I mean? But my buddies never do that. Here is another one, "You're a hotsy. I can't stand it." Or this one: "Buddha's my home boy." How cool, is that?!

It's and welcome to it.

[For satirically-impared, the above is a parody of attitudes toward MySpace. US News and World Report just ran a thoughtful article about MySpace aimed at parents. All parents with children using computers should read it.]

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Cardinal Soars Above Stooping Pope

[Here is more evidence that the Pope's original speech was right. Many are saying, "How dare you say we are a violent religion! We'll kill you for that." (The article wrongly uses "tenants" when it should be "tenets". What a dumb mistake for a published article.)]

Violent Muslim Reaction Justifies Pope's Stated Concerns, Cardinal Says

By Patrick Goodenough International Editor

September 19, 2006(

As the Vatican continues trying to placate Muslims angered by Pope Benedict XVI's recent remarks, a senior Catholic leader has said the violent response justified the concern the pope had been expressing in the first place.

Citing threats of violence against the pope in Somalia and Iraq, Archbishop of Sydney Cardinal George Pell said "the violent reactions ... showed the link for many Islamists between religion and violence, their refusal to respond to criticism with rational arguments, but only with demonstrations, threats and actual violence."

In a statement, Australia's top Catholic leader expressed gratitude that no "organized violence" had occurred in Australia in response to the pope's words, and he called the reactions of some Australian Muslim leaders "unfortunately typical and unhelpful."

"It is always someone else's fault, and issues touching on the nature of Islam are ignored," he said.

"Our major priority must be to maintain peace and harmony within the Australian community, but no lasting achievements can be grounded in fantasies and evasions."
Pell said genuine questions about Islam needed to be addressed, not regularly avoided.

Separately, in an op-ed article published Tuesday, he made a further appeal for Christian-Muslim dialogue.

"Accurate information, accurate understandings and a respect for truth, even across differences, are the only long-term bases for fruitful exchanges."

Responding to Pell's statement, Australian Muslim leader Ameer Ali said the cardinal's statement had not been helpful.

"The point is Pope Benedict quoted a most inappropriate quote at a most inappropriate time," Ali said.

In an academic speech in Germany last week, Pope Benedict, without qualification, quoted a 14th century Byzantine emperor's assessment of Islam and its seventh century founder.

"Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached," the pope quoted Manuel II Palaeologus as saying.

"To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death ..." the emperor had said, according to the pope.

The speech at Regensburg University included an appeal for dialogue based on "reason."

Following angry response from parts of the Islamic world, the Vatican issued several statements seeking to clarify the remarks, and the pope himself made what is being called an unprecedented public apology.

He said Sunday he was "deeply sorry" for the reaction of Muslims, and that the passages he quoted did not reflect his own views.

Some Muslim leaders and organizations welcomed the apology, but others - including
Egypt's radical Muslim Brotherhood and the Hamas terrorist organization in Gaza - called it insufficient.

Qatar-based Islamic scholar Yusuf al-Qaradawi said the pope should retract the speech, and speaking on al-Jazeera television, he called for a day of "peaceful and rational" anger on Friday. The Egyptian-born Sunni cleric, who is considered an influential voice in the Islamic world, has called Palestinian suicide bomb attacks justifiable.

In incidents believed to be linked to the issue, an Italian nun was shot dead in Somalia and armed Palestinians attacked churches in the Palestinian self-rule areas.
Muslim figures have compared the pope to Hitler, Mussolini and Urban II, the eleventh century pontiff who initiated the first crusade.

Iran's "supreme leader," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called the pope's remarks "the latest chain of the crusade against Islam started by America's [President] Bush."
Demonstrators in London have called for the pope to be killed for insulting Islam and Mohammed.

In an online posting attributed to the al-Qaeda terrorist group in Iraq, the pope was warned to "wait for defeat ... we will smash the cross."
'On the verge of an all-out clash'

Writing on the website of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, Anas Altikriti of the Muslim Association of Britain said that when the pope spoke about "reason" it was clear he was saying that Judaism and Christianity were reasonable but Islam was not.
Pope Benedict was essentially accusing Islam of being "inherently violent, fundamentally blood-thirsty and an enemy of all others," said Altikriti.

He added that this was "an extremely dangerous assertion to make ... when the world lies on the verge of an all-out clash that threatens everyone and everything."

In Geneva, the Organization of the Islamic Conference asked the U.N.'s Human Rights Council to make time during its current session to address "religious tolerance and related issues."

Pakistan's envoy, speaking on behalf of the 56-member Islamic bloc, welcomed the papal apology, but said the speech had "showed lack of understanding, albeit inadvertent, about Islam and its prophet."

"Such a tendency also threatens deeper alienation between the West and the world of Islam and hurts the ongoing efforts to promote dialogue and harmony amongst religions," Masood Khan told the council, whose three-week session began on Monday.

"To associate Islam with violence is to negate the basic tenets of a faith practiced for 15 centuries and which now has more than one billion followers - who are one-fifth of humanity."

Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, titular head of the world's Anglican (Episcopalian) church, defended Pope Benedict, saying his words about Islam should be seen in context and "judged against his entire record, where he has spoken very positively about dialogue."

A weekend editorial in Lebanon's Daily Star said the pope's words were ignorant but a violent response "will only reinforce erroneous beliefs and stereotypes about Islam."

"In today's world - where even prominent leaders embrace hurtful myths that compare Islam with fascism - Muslims have a moral duty to uphold the tenants of their faith," the newspaper said.

"Only then will Westerners begin to understand that Islam is a religion of peace."
President Bush said last month that a foiled transatlantic airline bombing plot showed that the U.S. was "at war with Islamic fascists who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom."

Earlier this year, Sydney's Cardinal Pell was attacked for a speech of his own, when he told an audience in Florida: "Considered strictly on its own terms, Islam is not a tolerant religion, and its capacity for far-reaching renovation is severely limited."

An Atheist Gets It (Pretty Much) Right on Islam and Liberalism

[This editorial is by Sam Harris, a critic of all theistic religion, whose recent book The End of Faith caused a stir despite its blatant caricatures of Christianity. Nevertheless, Harris sees that American liberalism is unable to discern the real threats we face from the jihadists. Despite my disagreements with his atheism and much of his morality and political judgments (about Bush, for example), his chastisement of oblivious liberalism is a needed tonic. Coming from him, it may have more salience than if written by a Christian or non-Christian conservative.]

LA Times
Head-in-the-Sand Liberals
Western civilization really is at risk from Muslim extremists.

By Sam Harris, SAM HARRIS is the author of "The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason." His next book, "Letter to a Christian Nation," will be published this week by Knopf.

September 18, 2006

TWO YEARS AGO I published a book highly critical of religion, "The End of Faith." In it, I argued that the world's major religions are genuinely incompatible, inevitably cause conflict and now prevent the emergence of a viable, global civilization. In response, I have received many thousands of letters and e-mails from priests, journalists, scientists, politicians, soldiers, rabbis, actors, aid workers, students--from people young and old who occupy every point on the spectrum of belief and nonbelief.

This has offered me a special opportunity to see how people of all creeds and political persuasions react when religion is criticized. I am here to report that liberals and conservatives respond very differently to the notion that religion can be a direct cause of human conflict.

This difference does not bode well for the future of liberalism.

Perhaps I should establish my liberal bone fides at the outset. I'd like to see taxes raised on the wealthy, drugs decriminalized and homosexuals free to marry. I also think that the Bush administration deserves most of the criticism it has received in the last six years--especially with respect to its waging of the war in Iraq, its scuttling of science and its fiscal irresponsibility.

But my correspondence with liberals has convinced me that liberalism has grown dangerously out of touch with the realities of our world--specifically with what devout Muslims actually believe about the West, about paradise and about the ultimate ascendance of their faith.

On questions of national security, I am now as wary of my fellow liberals as I am of the religious demagogues on the Christian right.

This may seem like frank acquiescence to the charge that "liberals are soft on terrorism." It is, and they are.

A cult of death is forming in the Muslim world--for reasons that are perfectly explicable in terms of the Islamic doctrines of martyrdom and jihad. The truth is that we are not fighting a "war on terror." We are fighting a pestilential theology and a longing for paradise.

This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims. But we are absolutely at war with those who believe that death in defense of the faith is the highest possible good, that cartoonists should be killed for caricaturing the prophet and that any Muslim who loses his faith should be butchered for apostasy.

Unfortunately, such religious extremism is not as fringe a phenomenon as we might hope. Numerous studies have found that the most radicalized Muslims tend to have better-than-average educations and economic opportunities.

Given the degree to which religious ideas are still sheltered from criticism in every society, it is actually possible for a person to have the economic and intellectual resources to build a nuclear bomb--and to believe that he will get 72 virgins in paradise. And yet, despite abundant evidence to the contrary, liberals continue to imagine that Muslim terrorism springs from economic despair, lack of education and American militarism.

At its most extreme, liberal denial has found expression in a growing subculture of conspiracy theorists who believe that the atrocities of 9/11 were orchestrated by our own government. A nationwide poll conducted by the Scripps Survey Research Center at Ohio University found that more than a third of Americans suspect that the federal government "assisted in the 9/11 terrorist attacks or took no action to stop them so the United States could go to war in the Middle East;" 16% believe that the twin towers collapsed not because fully-fueled passenger jets smashed into them but because agents of the Bush administration had secretly rigged them to explode.

Such an astonishing eruption of masochistic unreason could well mark the decline of liberalism, if not the decline of Western civilization. There are books, films and conferences organized around this phantasmagoria, and they offer an unusually clear view of the debilitating dogma that lurks at the heart of liberalism: Western power is utterly malevolent, while the powerless people of the Earth can be counted on to embrace reason and tolerance, if only given sufficient economic opportunities.

I don't know how many more engineers and architects need to blow themselves up, fly planes into buildings or saw the heads off of journalists before this fantasy will dissipate. The truth is that there is every reason to believe that a terrifying number of the world's Muslims now view all political and moral questions in terms of their affiliation with Islam. This leads them to rally to the cause of other Muslims no matter how sociopathic their behavior. This benighted religious solidarity may be the greatest problem facing civilization and yet it is regularly misconstrued, ignored or obfuscated by liberals.

Given the mendacity and shocking incompetence of the Bush administration--especially its mishandling of the war in Iraq--liberals can find much to lament in the conservative approach to fighting the war on terror. Unfortunately, liberals hate the current administration with such fury that they regularly fail to acknowledge just how dangerous and depraved our enemies in the Muslim world are.

Recent condemnations of the Bush administration's use of the phrase "Islamic fascism" are a case in point. There is no question that the phrase is imprecise--Islamists are not technically fascists, and the term ignores a variety of schisms that exist even among Islamists--but it is by no means an example of wartime propaganda, as has been repeatedly alleged by liberals.

In their analyses of U.S. and Israeli foreign policy, liberals can be relied on to overlook the most basic moral distinctions. For instance, they ignore the fact that Muslims intentionally murder noncombatants, while we and the Israelis (as a rule) seek to avoid doing so. Muslims routinely use human shields, and this accounts for much of the collateral damage we and the Israelis cause; the political discourse throughout much of the Muslim world, especially with respect to Jews, is explicitly and unabashedly genocidal.

Given these distinctions, there is no question that the Israelis now hold the moral high ground in their conflict with Hamas and Hezbollah. And yet liberals in the United States and Europe often speak as though the truth were otherwise.

We are entering an age of unchecked nuclear proliferation and, it seems likely, nuclear terrorism. There is, therefore, no future in which aspiring martyrs will make good neighbors for us. Unless liberals realize that there are tens of millions of people in the Muslim world who are far scarier than Dick Cheney, they will be unable to protect civilization from its genuine enemies.

Increasingly, Americans will come to believe that the only people hard-headed enough to fight the religious lunatics of the Muslim world are the religious lunatics of the West. Indeed, it is telling that the people who speak with the greatest moral clarity about the current wars in the Middle East are members of the Christian right, whose infatuation with biblical prophecy is nearly as troubling as the ideology of our enemies. Religious dogmatism is now playing both sides of the board in a very dangerous game.

While liberals should be the ones pointing the way beyond this Iron Age madness, they are rendering themselves increasingly irrelevant. Being generally reasonable and tolerant of diversity, liberals should be especially sensitive to the dangers of religious literalism. But they aren't.

The same failure of liberalism is evident in Western Europe, where the dogma of multiculturalism has left a secular Europe very slow to address the looming problem of religious extremism among its immigrants. The people who speak most sensibly about the threat that Islam poses to Europe are actually fascists.

To say that this does not bode well for liberalism is an understatement: It does not bode well for the future of civilization.

Monday, September 18, 2006

A Defense of "The Heavenly Man"

Here is an open letter by Paul Hattaway in defense of Brother Yun's testimony recorded in The Heavenly Man, a book I highly recommended in a previous post. I believe Hattaway is on the mark.

The Pope and Islam

The Pope recently delivered a speech which was principally about the relationship of faith and reason. It was a learned discourse on how Christians have appropriated (or renounced) Greek philosophy in their understanding of biblical revelation. The speech made fairly brief mention of a medieval treatise that compared a Christian view of these matters to the Muslim view. This text judged the Muslim view to unreasonable given their penchant for conversion through intimidation and not reason.

Because of this, Muslim are now engaging in violence against Catholics (including murder) and the Pope himself has apologized. This new round of Muslim violence and angry demands, in fact, proves the Pope's point--despite his apology. Islam typically brooks no criticism and appeals to force and threats more often than to argument to establish itself. For example, Oriana Fallaci's criticism of Islam in her last two books generated numerous death threats against her and a tract calling for her beheading. This attitude embedded deeply in the very structure of the religion.

Simply look at its history. A study of Islamic history by the Egyptian scholar Mark Gabriel is what led him out of Islam--even before he heard the gospel. He discovered this in his study as a professor of Islamic history at the most prestigious Islamic university on the planet. When he announced his conversion to Christ to his own father, the man produced a gun and started shooting. By God's grace, Gabriel (who has changed his name to protect his Muslim family in Egypt) escaped and is now an eloquent writer on Islam and Christianity. See his books, Jesus and Mohammad, and Islam and Terrorism.

Perhaps the Pope should read--and heed--these books. You should.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Oriana Fallaci is Dead at 77

I was saddened, but not surprised, to hear that the veteran Italian journalist and renowned interviewer, Oriana Fallaci, had died. She struggled with cancer for a decade and probably survived this long out of sheer Italian pluck. Please read The NY Times obituary and honor her memory by reading her last two books, The Rage and the Pride and The Force of Reason. A self-described "Christian atheist," she nevertheless leveled incisive insights into the decline of Europe and the effects of Islam in the West.

The Precious Self or the Heavenly Man?

This is from the article on Blue Like Jazz linked in the previous post. Donald Miller speaks of why he wrote the book:

"When I started writing, I just wanted to end up with something like Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies, because in Traveling Mercies it felt like she was free, free to be herself, to tell her story, to just vent, to rant, to speak as if she were talking to a friend," Miller wrote.

Rebecca Merrill Groothuis, my wife, pointed out that this orientation is the root of the whole problem. Miller and Lamott want to be free to be themselves, to tell their stories, to just went, to rant... This is not the way of Jesus Christ. He sets us free to follow him, to take up our cross, and deny ourselves for the sake of his glory and his kingdom.

Yes, Miller exposes some of the moralism and superficial confirming of evangelicalism. God knows there is plenty of that. But his own offering is no better: his precious, ranting, venting, story-telling self. "Honesty" (in the sense of the unbridled unburdening of the self on others) does not cover a multitude of sins, postmodern memoirs to the contrary. That kind of "honesty" (as opposed to integrity) is over-rated and under-criticized. It is often better to keep silent until you have something better to say. "By your words you will be justified and by your words you will be condemned," intoned Jesus--who never wasted a word and who only spoke righteous truth, come what may.

If one wants to read a memoir (so to speak), Rebecca and I strongly recommend The Heavenly Man by Brother Yun. This remarkable and inspiring story does not center on the remarkable man who wrote it, but on the glory and power of God, even in suffering. Yun is a Chinese Christian who suffered intense persecution (including severe torture) from the Communists, but who also experienced profound miracles through the Holy Spirit, including a miraculous escapes from prison, healing, visions, and other supernatural signs and wonders.

The man has memorized more Scripture than most Christians read in a year. He writes that the Chinese house-church Christians do not pray for lighter loads, but for stronger backs. His testimony convicts and inspires. It is like reading a modern Book of Acts, but set in China. When some Western Christians came to China to teach, they would teach no more forty-five minutes. But for Brother Yun and his friends, this is just warming up. They are used to hours of teaching. But in American churches, we subsist on a starvation diet of preaching and teaching, since we are so filled with the world (sports, television, video games, shopping, etc.)

His observations on the American church are piercing, but offered humbly. American Christianity depresses him. There is so little seeking after God and so much self-congratulation and hype. I hope to use this as text next time I teach Christian Ethics and Modern Culture at Denver Seminary in order to shake everyone up, myself included.

Please read The Heavenly Man. If needed, it will help expunge the postmodern selfism of Lamott and Miller from your system. You will be challenged to seize upon God, to seek God through prayer and fasting and worship, to not fear suffering for the Lord, and to live by faith and be ready to die for Jesus Christ.

(There are some rumors floating on the Internet that Yun is corrupt and made up these stories. From what I can discern, the source for these attacks is not credible.)

Friday, September 15, 2006

Article on "Blue Like Jazz" Quotes Curmudgeon

Hannah Elliott of Associate Baptist Press has written a piece called "Blue Like Jazz Mirrors Debate About Direction of Christianity. I am quoted in the article, as is my colleague, Scott Wenig, who takes a decidedly different approach than I do.

Strangely, I am referred to as "a well-known Christian blogger" before I am referred to as "a professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary." Do more people know me as a blogger than as a philosopher and professor? Does the blogger identity have more cultural salience and resonance than being a Christian philosopher? Oh well, please read the article and feel free to comment here.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Jonathan Wells to Debate on the Michael Medved Show

[This is from the Discovery Institute listserve. I debated Mooney on a Boulder public radio station in August of 2006. He was sneering and presented no real arguments. He should have his hands full with Dr. Wells.]

Authors to Debate Darwinism vs. Design on National Radio Program, Friday Sept. 15

Mark your calendars for 1pm PST tomorrow. You won't want to miss this one. Biologist Jonathan Wells will debate blogger Chris Mooney on the science behind Darwinism and intelligent design. They will be the guests on The Michael Medved Show from 1-2pm PST. Visit Medved's station finder page to find the station in your local area. The program is broadcast live all over the country, so if you want to ask questions, the call-in number for Medved's show is 1-800-955-1776.

Review of Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design

[This was posted recently at Denver Journal. It is an expanded and corrected version of what I posted on this blog recently.]

Jonathan Wells, The Politically Incorrect Guide to Darwinism and Intelligent Design. Washington, DC: Regnery Publishing, 2006. 273 pages, with index. Reviewed by Douglas Groothuis.

Jonathan Wells is a leading figure in the intelligent design (ID) movement and holds doctorates in religion and microbiology. His previous book, Icons of Evolution (2000), argued that the most commonly cited images of Darwinism—such as finch beaks, peppered moths, evolutionary trees, and embryos that recapitulate the evolutionary journey—all lack evidential substance. To put it more bluntly: they are frauds. Despite its massive influence, Darwinism is evidentially challenged.

Wells’s newest effort is a welcome introduction to both the problems with Darwinism (the negative case) and the promise of ID (the positive case). Although it covers some of the material found in Icons of Evolution, most of the book's ground is not covered in the previous work. It is part of the Politically Incorrect Guide series, which includes the excellent titles: The Politically Incorrect Guide to Science (by Tom Bethel) and The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam and the Crusades (by Robert Spencer). The guides offer views which are unfashionable to most of the cultural establishment, but which the authors argue are worth taking seriously, nevertheless. Since ID has triggered a flurry of controversy in recent years—featuring high-profile court cases such as the recent Dover decision—and since it is typically misrepresented in the mainstream media, Wells’s work is timely and significant.

Recently a letter of mine was published in The New York Times that criticized a boilerplate, straw man attack on intelligent design (ID) written by a crusading Darwinist. I received two emails castigating my audacity. One letter claimed that no amount of empirical evidence could support design because design is not a physical property. Exactly so. This confirmed my letter's observation that opposition to ID is based on methodological naturalism: no intelligent causes are allowed in the explanation game because science can only address material causes. This is how they—the Darwinian priesthood—set up the rules (that is, the dogma). In other words, the question of design or no design in biology is begged. That is a classical logical fallacy.

The other email accused ID proponents of Lysenkoism: they would get their way by strong arm tactics, as did the Soviet scientist who shut down dissent to his ideas in the old USSR. I wrote back saying that the Darwinists are the real Lysenkoists, since they constantly shut down ID from being presented in public institutions and attack ID proponents personally. (Wells gives plentiful evidence for that happening.) Moreover, ID proponents have never advocated banning the teaching of Darwinism. They only want to allow it to be challenged with scientific evidence to the contrary. (Wells also demonstrates that Lysenko, common opinion to the contrary, did not oppose Darwinism, but rather Mendelian genetics.)

These examples highlight just some of the false charges of Darwinists against ID. Wells addresses all the rest, such as:
1. ID is religious, not scientific.
2. ID is the same as creationism.
3. ID makes no scientific predictions and is not testable.
4. No ID arguments have been published in peer review literature.

But Wells also presents the positive case for ID with clarity, logic, wry wit, and ample documentation. He thoroughly and engagingly explains some of the more rarified ID concepts, such as specified complexity, with aplomb but never glibly. (Don’t let the title of this book deceive you; it is never flippant, glib, or unserious.) Wells also repeatedly skewers Darwinian fallacies. My favorite Darwinian fallacy is the claim that ID is not testable, but that all the evidence is against it. If it is not testable, then no evidence could be marshaled for it or against it. You cannot have it both ways.

Wells covers the whole spectrum of issues related to Darwinism and ID: scientific, philosophical, cultural, and political. His concluding chapter predicts the eventual ascendance of ID over Darwinism, given the strength of the ID evidence and the unimpressive (and sometimes desperate) strategies of its antagonists.

This book is ideal for the neophyte who wants to get to the bottom of the debate. However, the more seasoned ID reader will also benefit from some new ideas he might have missed in his other reading, as well as from the sheer cognitive pleasure of reading such a well-crafted, courageous, and timely presentation.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D.
Professor of Philosophy
Denver Seminary
September 2006

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Why Should I Buy an iPod?

I have spoken against iPods as isolating people and perpetuating the culture of entertainment. I read a good article on this about two years ago in The Utne Reader, "Hell is Other iPods."

However, are there advantages of having an iPod for a curmudgeon? I like to listen to lectures in the car. I'm driving much more here in Arizona than I do in Denver, so the need increases. (I'm on sabbatical in Sun City West.) Could I get many lectures in MP3 format and get an adapter to listen in the car? I also usually ride my hybrid bike like a fiend as much as possible. I usually listen to CDs, but have to change them on longer rides. (I cannot ride here until the temperatures get well below what they are now.)

But do not worry. I do not plan on walking around like a zombie with it on at all times--if I get one at all. But if I do, what is the best kind for a nonfanatic?

Are there MP3 recorders that won't bankrupt you? That would allow me to record more of my lectures and perhaps get them on line.

Feel free to email me or post something on this. This time I'm asking my loyal readers (or even disloyal ones) to help me out, instead of having me provide more stunning commentary, biting sarcasm, and exemplary humility. And if you fear for my curmudgeonhood at this prospect, let me know that.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Is Heaven Boring?

[The following is a section from my apologetics book in progress, What Matters Most. It comes from a chapter called "Distortions of Christianity or The God I Don't Believe In." Itis unedited, so let me know if you find mistakes or if you have comments.]

The Christian Afterlife as Unappealing

Although it is seldom mentioned in apologetic texts, some have dismissed Christianity as unappealing partially because they take its view of the afterlife as monotonous and boring. This objection has several dimensions. First, some claim they have no interest in the Christian doctrine of heaven because, if Christianity is true, most of their friends will be in hell. So, they would rather reside in hell in the company of their friends than live in heaven with a bunch of sanctimonious strangers engaged in endless ennui. This misconstrues the biblical doctrines of both heaven and hell. Biblically speaking, there is no opportunity for friendship or enjoyable convocation of any type in hell. An unspecified number of people end up in hell, which is a place of unmitigated torment and regret. In damnation, there is no opportunity for reminiscing or otherwise enjoying the company one’s damned friends. Choosing hell for the fellowship is akin to deciding to join one’s friends in a burning building from which there is no possible escape rather than being united with those who are deathlessly alive and vibrant in perfect love and wisdom in a restored and curse-forgotten universe.

But those who don’t play the “I’d rather be in hell with my friends” card still may reject heaven as bland or pointless. This often stems from half-remembered Sunday school lessons, bad religious art, or popular presentations of people playing harps on clouds for no apparent reason—forever. The root of the problem is a false concept of heaven, which is often perpetrated by the church itself. Biblically understood, the afterlife has two stages: (1) life after death and (2) life after life after death. For the believer in Christ, physical death means the separation of the soul from the body and into the presence of God. Not much is related about his stage, except to say that one is “with the Lord” but nevertheless “unclothed,” lacking a physical body. That is, this disembodied and intermediate state—between mortal life and the resurrection of the body—is incomplete. We were created to be physical and spiritual unities, but death (due to sin) shatters this unity. At death the Christian is freed from the chains of earthly, sin-affected existence, but one has yet to put on the resurrected body promised to the redeemed. There are some descriptions of redeemed spirits praising God in the Book of Revelation, a highly symbolical book, where harps are mentioned (14:2; 15:2). But whatever praise and other activities occur before the resurrection of the dead, they cannot possibly be boring or pointless, since one is giving honor to an object of supreme and final and incorruptible worth. We may praise and honor finite beings to some extent, but even standing ovations for virtuoso musicians end at some point. However, the worship of an infinite and perfect being has no termination, since finite beings will always be in God’s debt and will always have more of God’s endless life to joyfully experience through worship throughout all eternity. That is paradise—to be with Jesus (Luke 23:43).

This worship, however, is not limited to singing or playing instruments. The final state of the creation is “the new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells” (Revelation). Humans were created to cultivate and develop the world and glorify God thereby (Genesis 1-2). This plan was not thwarted by the fall. Christ came to redeem not only humans, but the entire creation (Romans 8:18-26). So, in the world to come, redeemed women and men will take their place on earth to continue the task of cultivation and development. So, in the final analysis, “heaven is a place on earth” (to steal from a popular song and a book title). Moreover, although it is not commonly taught in American evangelicalism, there is a strong biblical case (emphasized by the Calvinistic tradition) that humanity’s cultural achievements will be purified and brought into this resurrected world. “The wealth of the nations” shall be brought into the eternal kingdom. God will purge the planet and purify it of all that causes sin. Yet since God’s image-bearers, whether redeemed or reprobate, have created many artifacts of enduring value, these achievements will be retained in the eternal kingdom, thus giving its citizens ample occasion for enjoyment and appreciation. Beyond these historical monuments to God’s cultural grace are the manifold cultural creations that will flourish in a restored universe which is free of the fall and filled with the manifest presence of God as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9, Revelation 21-22).

So, if one takes the Bible seriously, the afterlife cannot be taken to be insipid or uninspiring. As Irenaeus wrote, “The glory of God is man fully alive”—and fully alive people will then be in their glorified state. Nevertheless, the bent nature of fallen mortals that absolutely refuses God the worship and honor due his matchless character and prefers to falsely elevate the finite to infinite status through idolatry (Romans 1:18-32). In this sad state of rebellion against one’s Creator, all true worship is rejected as demeaning and humiliating. But if the case for Christianity is indeed as strong as this book claims, then one should relent before the truth and realize that “God opposes the proud, but shows favor to the humble” (James 4:6; quoting Proverbs 3:34.). Therein, eternal joy resides.

Prayer of William Barclay

O God, we thank you for all those in whose words and in whose writings your truth has come to us. For the historians, the psalmists and the prophets, who wrote the Old Testament; for all those who in every generation have taught and explained and expounded and preached the word of Scripture: we thank you, O God.

Grant, O God, that no false teaching may ever have any power to deceive us or to seduce us from the truth. Grant, O God, that we may never listen any teaching which would encourage us to think sin less serious, vice more attractive, or virtue less important; grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which would dethrone Jesus Christ from the topmost place; grant, O God, that we may never listen to any teaching which for its own purposes perverts the truth.

God, our Father, establish us immovably in the truth. Give us minds which can see at once the difference between the true and the false; make us able to test everything, and to hold fast to that which is good; give us such a love of truth, that no false thing may ever be able to lure us from it. So grant that all our lives we may know, and love, and live the truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

From: William Barclay, Prayers for the Christian Year (New York: Harper, 1965); quoted in Vernon Grounds, “The Truth About Truth,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, Volume 38, No. 2 (June 1995), 228-229.

Monday, September 11, 2006

A Dose of Reagan: A Dose of Reality Five Years After the Terrorist Apocalypse

Radio Address to the Nation on Terrorism
May 31st, 1986

My fellow Americans:

History is likely to record that 1986 was the year when the world, at long last, came to grips with the plague of terrorism. For too long, the world was paralyzed by the argument that terrorism could not be stopped until the grievances of terrorists were addressed. The complicated and heartrending issues that perplex mankind are no excuse for violent, inhumane attacks, nor do they excuse not taking aggressive action against those who deliberately slaughter innocent people.

In our world there are innumerable groups and organizations with grievances, some justified, some not. Only a tiny fraction has been ruthless enough to try to achieve their ends through vicious and cowardly acts of violence upon unarmed victims. Perversely, it is often the terrorists themselves who prevent peacefully negotiated solutions. So, perhaps the first step in solving some of these fundamental challenges in getting to the root cause of conflict is to declare that terrorism is not an acceptable alternative and will not be tolerated.

Effective antiterrorist action has also been thwarted by the claim that—as the quip goes—"One man's terrorist is another man's freedom fighter." That's a catchy phrase, but also misleading. Freedom fighters do not need to terrorize a population into submission. Freedom fighters target the military forces and the organized instruments of repression keeping dictatorial regimes in power. Freedom fighters struggle to liberate their citizens from oppression and to establish a form of government that reflects the will of the people. Now, this is not to say that those who are fighting for freedom are perfect or that we should ignore problems arising from passion and conflict. Nevertheless, one has to be blind, ignorant, or simply unwilling to see the truth if he or she is unable to distinguish between those I just described and terrorists. Terrorists intentionally kill or maim unarmed civilians, often women and children, often third parties who are not in any way part of a dictatorial regime. Terrorists are always the enemies of democracy. Luckily, the world is shaking free from its lethargy and moving forward to stop the bloodshed. . . .

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Why Eulogies Have Changed

[The following column is by Terry Mattingly. It concerns the secularization of eulogies, a telling commentary on our sleepwalking culture. Remember Pascal's epigram, "Between heaven and hell is only this life, which is the most fragile thing in the world." Remember, too, the old, simple poem, "Only one life and quickly past. Only what's done for Christ will last.]

This column was syndicated by Scripps Howard News Service on 09/06/2006

Seconds after American Airlines Flight 11 passed overhead, another Franciscan brother ran to Father Mychal Judge's room in the friary to let him know the World Trade Center was on fire.

The veteran chaplain quickly changed out of his simple brown habit and into his fire department uniform -- pausing only to comb and spray his hair. Judge was heading into danger, but he was also ready to face the cameras. Soon, a photographer captured unforgettable images of firefighters carrying the priest's body out of the rubble and his name was on the first Ground Zero death certificate.

"While he was ministering to dying firemen, administering the Sacrament of the Sick and Last Rites, Mychal Judge died," said Father Michael Duffy, at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in New York City.

"... Look how that man died. He was right where the action was, where he always wanted to be. He was praying, because in the ritual for anointing we're always saying, 'Jesus come,' 'Jesus forgive,' 'Jesus save.' He was talking to God and he was helping someone. Can you honestly think of a better way to die? I think it was beautiful."

Anyone who wants to know how to deliver a eulogy should study this poignant section of Duffy's remarks at the funeral of his close friend, said Cyrus Copeland, a former advertising executive who edited "Farewell, Godspeed" and the recent "A Wonderful Life," two collections of famous
eulogies. The new book includes a chapter focusing on Judge and three other men who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

This one anecdote reveals two sides of the same man, mixing humor -- the final ritual of comb and hairspray -- with a vision of a faithful priest's willingness to risk his own life to provide comfort to his unique flock.

These days, said Copeland, the loved ones who gather at a funeral want to hear a celebratory toast to a life well lived, just as much or more than they want to face spiritual issues involved in their loss.

"People want honesty," he said. "They don't want to hear about the saint that nobody knew. They want to hear about the real Father Mychal, a man who loved the human soul, but also knew a good photo opportunity when he saw one. They want to hear about life, more than they want to hear about eternal life. Eulogies today are more human and they are becoming less religious."

Copeland is convinced there are several reasons that the art of the eulogy has changed so radically in recent decades.

For starters, most people alive today have grown up in a video age, surrounded by celebrity news and, more recently, the tightly edited rush of "reality television." They have seen their share of high-profile funerals. Millions wept as Lord Edward John Spencer spoke at the funeral
of his sister, Lady Diana. Many watched as superstar Cher laughed and cried her way through a eulogy for her former husband, Sonny Bono.

Clergy rarely command the spotlight during these rites.

"It's important to remember that the celebrity memorial service was the first kind to be secularized," said Copeland. "So you expect to hear about heaven in a eulogy for Father Mychal Judge, with a priest in the pulpit. But eulogies for celebrities like Marilyn Monroe may not mention heaven at all. That's just the age we live in."

There's another practical reason that eulogies have changed so much. Friends and relatives are taking control of the microphone.

In the past, loved ones asked the family's pastor, rabbi or priest to deliver the eulogy. Today, it would be hard for most people to name such a person. Most modern families are scattered across the nation, divided by career choices and, far too often, broken relationships. Family members may not even share a common faith and they certainly have not spent most of their lives in the same neighborhood in the same city.

Clergy used to deliver about 90 percent of all eulogies. Today, "that number is about 50 percent and it's falling," said Copeland.

"So for many people a memorial service simply isn't a religious event anymore. It offers us a chance to say our good-byes to the dearly departed, but many people no longer think of this event as a bridge between this life and the next."

Terry Mattingly ( directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes this weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

John Coltrane and Philosophy

You may have seen a whole score of books in recent years attempting to relate philosophy to popular culture: The Simpsons and Philosophy, The Sopranos and Philosophy, etc. Since I have never watched a single episode of either program (and will not), these books fail to draw me into their orbit. These kind of books strike me as somewhat pathetic on one level (pandering); but the idea has some merit: take a widely known and easily recognized item in culture and philosophize about it. I believe there is a title (or will be) called Bob Dylan and Philosophy, which I assume could delve deeper than ruminations cartoon characters or Mafia figures. Perhaps...

This brings me to my theme and scheme: John Coltrane and Philosophy, a book I would like to edit. The thought welled up within me while reading an unrelated essay in Harpers. Jazz is better conceived as an expression of folk culture than pop culture; its roots are deeper, its respect for tradition is better, and its ties to objective standards are stronger. The appreciation of jazz--like philosophy--requires more effort than the "use" (in C.S. Lewis's phrase) of pop culture. Coltrane was a deeply serious musician and thinker, although he wrote next to nothing and granted few interviews. He was a man of few words.

I can think of at least one chapter to write in this proposed volume--"The Worldview of 'A Love Supreme'"--but I blank on other contributors. What philosophers can write philosophically about John Coltrane? There must be some out there. If so, please let me know, since I'd like to pursue this project. Finding a publisher should be another hurdle, I know.

(Another idea I have is Kenny G and the Decline of Western Civilization.)

Friday, September 08, 2006

Develop Your Vocabulary--to Save Your Life and Civilization

[The following editorial is by Michelle Malkin, a columnist I typically appreciate.]

Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2006 / 13 Elul, 5766
A post-9/11 vocabulary test
By Michelle Malkin

What have you learned since the Sept. 11 attacks five years ago? The mass murder of 2,996 innocent people on American soil forced open my eyes to the Islamic holy war against the West, freedom, and modernity. The battle has raged not for years or decades, but for centuries — well before the Crusades began.

The indelible sight of workers plunging from the Twin Towers — head first, feet first, solo, hand-in-hand — roused me from slumber. The photos of children who were incinerated on United Airlines Flight 175 and American Airlines Flight 77 compelled me to start paying attention to the beliefs, goals, language, and lies of those who would gladly kill my children the same way. The Flight 93 hijackers' final exclamations as they drove the plane into the ground is a Muslim warrior leitmotif I will never again ignore: "Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!"

So, how much do you know? Take a post-9/11 pop quiz. It's never too late to start pulling your head from the sand:

Jihadis. These are our enemies--from Mohammed Atta and company to the Butchers of Beslan, to the throat-slitters in Karachi and Baghdad and Mindanao, to the bombers of Bali, Madrid, and London, to their funders and imams and enablers worldwide. They are not "freedom fighters" or "militants" or "rebels" or "evildoers" of unknown geographic and religious affiliation. Apologists claim "jihad" means a peaceful Muslim striving for spiritual perfection. But the late Ayatollah Khomeini rebuked Religion of Peace propagandists back in 1942: "Those who know nothing of Islam pretend that Islam counsels against war. Those (who say this) are witless."

Egyptian-born Nonie Darwish, an ex-Muslim whose father founded the terrorist Fedayeen in Gaza and killed 400 Israelis, had her own recent rejoinder for the p.c. whitewashers who have redefined jihad as a kinder, gentler struggle: "In the Arab world we were only taught one meaning for Jihad, and that is: A religious holy war against infidels and armed struggle against anyone who is not a Moslem."

Infidels/Kafirs. Anyone who is not a Muslim.

Sharia. This is the set of Islamic legal principles and traditions that our enemies seek to impose on us. It's a path that leads inexorably to the subjugation of women, stoning of adulterers, "honor killings" of rape victims, bans on beauty pageants, cinema, and the viewing of soccer matches, death threats against authors, filmmakers, cartoonists, and apostates who renounce Islam, and calls for beheadings of all who insult their faith.

Caliphate. A Muslim world government ruled according to sharia. It is what American al Qaeda Adam Gadahn envisions in his latest "Convert or die" propaganda video when he asserts "Islam is the only religion acceptable to God" and "God recognizes no separation between religion and state." It is the dream not just of Osama bin Laden, but of Islamic imperialists throughout history.

Taqiyya. Religious deception. Jihadists are taught in al Qaeda training manuals to lie. To fabricate tales about how their captors treat them (see Gitmo). To lie in claiming "There is no compulsion in religion" while forcing conversions at gunpoint (see the "Holy Jihad Brigades" conversion video starring Fox News journalists Steve Centanni and Olaf Wiig). To conceal their true mission (see hijackers' visa applications). Dissimulation for the sake of Islam is sanctioned by the Koran.

Dhimmitude. The official state of inferiority of non-Muslims under Islam; the bowing and scraping of vanquished infidels to their intellectual and military conquerors. You saw it in the immediate post-9/11 appeasement of Muslims angered by the name "Operation Infinite Justice" (it was an insult to Mohammed). You saw it in the cowards of the mainstream media unwilling to defend free speech during the Mohammed cartoon rage. You saw it in the mau-mauing over the faked Koran-flushings at Camp Delta. You see it in our government's persistent pandering to grievance-mongering groups yelling "Islamophobia" and filing lawsuits at every turn.

You see it in the refusal to profile at the airport, limit immigration from terrorist-enabling countries, and shut down Saudi pilot training programs — even to this day — for fear of hurting feelings. You will see it throughout the week-long commemoration of 9/11 as pundits and scholars deemphasize the jihadi roots of the terrorist attacks in favor of "dialogue" and "tolerance" and self-flagellation.

Submitting to ignorance is submitting to defeat. Honor the victims of 9/11 by making a pledge: "I will not submit."

Coltrane 101: Echoes of a Giant

New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff has written an introductory essay on John Coltrane occasioned by an upcoming string of New York concerts interpreting his music. Having read many books on Coltrane and as an avid fan, I recommend the article to you. I only wish I were in New York to hear the concerts.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Antidote to Hurry Sickness

[This was published in Moody Magazine in 2001 in my column, "Culture Watch." I lost it on my hard drive, but just I found it on line. I don't think I've posted it before, but that may be wrong. This topic came up on a church staff meeting today, and that jogged my memory to try to find this.]

Culture Watch
From Hyperculture to Shalom
By Douglas Groothuis

MODERN AMERICANS CRAVE AND LIVE ON SPEED. Fast is "cool." Computers get faster by the month and are outdated in a couple of years. Cultural trends come and go in a flash. Yesterday it was Teletubbies; today it’s Pokeman. What will it be next week? Short, brisk sermons are recommended for people with short attention spans. We dare not "waste time," and we must always "save time." Professor Stephen Bartman identifies this infatuation with speed as "hyperculture." Through it all, we may lose a sense of shalom, of God’s peace.

Speed is beneficial when being faster saves lives or improves life. Ambulance service should be quick. E-mail allows me to send items in a few minutes, as opposed to several days through "snail mail."

Speed can even teach spiritual lessons. The Old Testament Jews were instructed to eat the Passover meal quickly to help them remember their hasty exodus from Egypt at the hand of God (Exod. 12:11).

The Book of Hebrews chastens its original readers, saying at that stage they should be teachers, but are "slow to learn" and need "someone to teach [them] the elementary truths of God’s word all over again" (5:12). They were spiritual slow-pokes. Paul exhorts us to make "the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil" (Eph. 5:16). We can’t imagine this evangelist, apologist, and theologian wasting time.

Yet our culture is accelerating in unhealthy ways. A few Americans have even opted for a drive-through funeral parlor, with the corpse behind a glass, and a guest book in the driver’s reach. Grieving isn’t fun. Speed it up. Get it over with.

The pace of television and movie images has radically increased. James Gleik notes in Faster that "No matter how fast a movie goes these days — or a situation comedy, a newscast, a music video, or a television commercial — it is not fast enough. Vehicles race, plunge, and fly faster; cameras pan and shake faster, and scenes cut faster from one shot to the next."

But the mind cannot keep pace with the medium. The swiftness of video excites the senses while dulling the soul. Humans were not created to assimilate images this rapidly. Film historian Annette Insdorf notes, "There’s a kind of mindlessness. The viewer is invited to absorb images without digesting them. Music videos seem to have seeped into the rhythms of creativity. It’s rare these days that films afford the luxury of time." But mindlessness is not a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23)! Building a Christian mind takes time.

Many of us maneuver around the Internet at breakneck speeds — surfing from one web page to another, absorbing images and sounds, without reading the material critically. Gleik writes that in 1997, Sun Microsystems "conducted research into how people read on the Web and concluded simply, ‘They don’t.’ They scan, sampling words and phrases."

These examples point out the pathology of velocity: Our mental and moral lives become debased through excess speed. We may become addicted to rapidity without counting the costs: superficiality, impatience, anger, and frustration. When life becomes a blur, it can’t be lived well before God and others. We all have our own "speed limits."

How do we find the proper pace of life? We can pursue shalom, God’s peace. We should limit our intake of any medium — whether television, movies, or video games — that encourages the pathologies of velocity. Sometimes, slower is better, richer, and deeper. Rather than "surfing" through the Scriptures, we can read reflectively, pausing to consider the implications of truth for us. Instead of mini-sermons to fit our mini-attention spans, we need to develop our powers of concentration so we can enjoy longer and deeper messages. Absorbing biblical truth can’t be rushed.

Scripture summons us to "wait for the Lord" (Psalm 130:5). As we still our souls, look upward, and slow down, we begin to find the meaning that is missed when life is an adrenaline-driven blur. In all things we should cut against the grain of hyperculture and learn to hear God say, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10).

Dr. Groothuis is Professor of philosophy at Denver Seminary. He is the author of Truth Decay: Defending Christianity Against the Challenges of Postmodernism (InterVarsity Press).

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Billy Graham on Who Goes to Heaven

[This is from a story on Billy Graham in the August 14, 2006 edition of Newsweek, which I read on line. Graham's comments are hard to interpret, but he is clearly not an exclusivist on salvation. Apparently he thinks members of other religions may be saved. He seems to think that they are saved through God's love shown in Jesus, however. (The reporter asked about "good Jews, Muslims, etc," which betrays the reporter's perspective that people are saved by religious "good" works and not grace (see Ephesians 2:8). Graham is not reported to have challenged this "good Jew, etc." idea. Perhaps he did, but it was not mentioned. These stories are always heavily edited.)

But if Graham thinks that Jews, Muslims, etc. can be saved, this would make him a very liberal inclusivist. More conservative inclusivists--such as Millard Erickson or the late Sir Norman Anderson--who aver that if anyone is saved apart from their knowledge of the gospel it must be that they forsake their own religion as a path of salvation and cast themselves on God's mercy as best they understand it from general revelation. What Graham says puts him closer to John Sanders, Clark Pinnock, or Brian McLaren--not the best theological company to my mind.]

A unifying theme of Graham's new thinking is humility. He is sure and certain of his faith in Jesus as the way to salvation. When asked whether he believes heaven will be closed to good Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus or secular people, though, Graham says: "Those are decisions only the Lord will make. It would be foolish for me to speculate on who will be there and who won't ... I don't want to speculate about all that. I believe the love of God is absolute. He said he gave his son for the whole world, and I think he loves everybody regardless of what label they have." Such an ecumenical spirit may upset some Christian hard-liners, but in Graham's view, only God knows who is going to be saved: "As an evangelist for more than six decades, Mr. Graham has faithfully proclaimed the Bible's Gospel message that Jesus is the only way to Heaven," says Graham spokesman A. Larry Ross. "However, salvation is the work of Almighty God, and only he knows what is in each human heart."

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Bush on Heaven

Well, I have already suspended by blog holiday (briefly). Brooks Alexander alerted me to this clip of George Bush speaking of who goes to heaven. Apparently, just about everyone does. True, this exchange is less than two minutes of "conversation" and it is television; but, nevertheless, one would expect better from a self-described Christian.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Friday, September 01, 2006

Slavery in America

[This article is from The Denver Post. If this is what globalization brings, I want none of it. Thank God he was caught. How many others from similar backgrounds might be doing the same thing right here in America?]

Article Last Updated: 8/31/2006 07:09 PM

denver & the west | aurora
Slavery case nets 28-year sentence

By Kieran Nicholson
Denver Post Staff Writer

A Saudi Arabian man convicted of sexual assault and keeping a woman enslaved in his Aurora home was sentenced today to 28 years to life in prison.

Homaidan Al-Turki, 37, a linguistics doctoral candidate at the University of Colorado at Boulder, was sentenced to 20 years to life on 12 of counts of unlawful sexual contact and 8 years for theft.

Al-Turki was also sentenced for criminal extortion, false imprisonment and conspiracy to commit false imprisonment, but those sentences are concurrent to the 28 year to life sentence.

He was convicted in June of keeping a 24-year-old Indonesian woman as a slave in the family home, forcing her to cook and clean and take care of the family and their five children with little pay. Prosecutors say Al-Turki eventually intimidated the woman into sex acts that culminated in her rape in late 2004.

Staff writer Kieran Nicholson can be reached at 303-954-1822 or